ALBANY – The UConn women’s basketball team advanced to its 13th straight Elite Eight Saturday afternoon at the Times Union Center, defeating the Duke Blue Devils 72-59 in large part due to the play of one Gabby Williams.
Williams gave the No. 1-overall Huskies (35-0) 15 points on 7-11 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals in an all-around masterpiece of a performance, drawing comparisons to one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the streets of UConn’s campus, Maya Moore.
“I tell you what, (Williams) is a very special player,” Joanne P. McCallie, Duke’s head coach said. “They just don’t come around very much. And she’s the closest thing to Maya Moore to me, without the outside shooting as much but still with that body type and the way she’s consistent. She’s very clever and very good and she was a big problem for us.”
Moore, a 2011 graduate of UConn, is one of the greatest collegiate basketball players of all-time, let alone in UConn women’s basketball program history. Moore is a legend in Storrs for breaking the 3,000-point milestone and is the only women’s basketball player in Division I history to record 2500 points, 1000 rebounds, 500 assists, 250 steals and 150 blocked shots, a testament to how she impacted the game in so many ways.
Similarly, Williams is influential in nearly every category when it comes to the game of basketball. For her career, the 5-foot-11 senior forward from Sparks, Nevada has 1,547 points, 992 rebounds, 470 assists, 302 steals and 99 blocks, numbers that fall short of Moore’s career marks, though Williams didn’t start playing significant minutes until midway through her sophomore year.
“It’s a huge honor to even be in the same sentence as (Maya),” Williams said when told of McCallie’s comparison. “I would never call myself Maya Moore, but that is a huge compliment.”
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma praised Williams for her rare set of skills, which undeniably sways the balance of any given matchup in the Huskies’ favor.
“Offensively, she makes the easy plays and she makes the really difficult plays,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know that there’s anybody that has been able to do what she’s done at both ends of the floor, making good difficult plays defensively look easy… She’s unique in a lot of ways.”
Former Duke men’s basketball star and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas has gone as far as to say multiple times that Williams is the best college basketball player today, men’s or women’s.
After watching Williams’ performance against the Blue Devils, Bilas tweeted about his admiration for her all-around game.
“I think I’m gonna echo Jay Bilas. Jay Bilas loves her, talks about her all the time as just a wonderful player in women’s basketball,” McCallie said. “I’m gonna go with him and be on that club, the Gabby Williams fan club. Not only she is so consistent, but I mean she just doesn’t bat an eye to anything. She competes at an Olympic-level focus.”
Auriemma has been effusive in his praise for Williams for the last two years since she really broke out as a star, but was particularly proud Saturday of her ability to play well in big games time after time.
“Gabby is gonna play great every game,” Auriemma said. “But she plays at a certain level every big game.”
Williams’ and the Huskies’ next game is a big one: a rematch with the defending national champion No. 2 seed South Carolina Gamecocks, who defeated the Buffalo Bulls 79-63 in the Regional Semifinal to advance to the Elite Eight. UConn and South Carolina will tip-off at the Times Union Center at approximately 7 p.m. Monday.